Carrying My Burdens

Finally, after overstaying its welcome, winter seems to be moving out! Our days have been filled with sunshine, clear skies, and warm weather, and my boys want nothing more than to be outside. For my two-year-old, that means daily walks to the creek down the road from our house, where he likes to throw in big rocks and see how big a splash he can make.

Yesterday, he got the idea to ride his tricycle down to the creek. He just learned to pedal over the last couple months, and he loves any opportunity to ride.

I knew when he suggested it, he wouldn’t make it down there and back on the tricycle. There’s a big hill to climb on the way back, and his little legs would never hold out. But I didn’t discourage him. I walked beside him, smiling as he put his heart and soul into pushing those pedals and bending down to give him a gentle shove now and then to help him out. We both laughed as he sailed down the hill, his white-blond hair standing straight up in the wind.

Parking his tricycle in triumph next to the creek, his grin stretched from ear to ear. “I did it, Momma!”

“You sure did,” I said, holding my hand out to receive a very enthusiastic high five.

He threw the pile of rocks he’d brought in the tricycle’s pouch into the water, letting them splash one by one. When he finished, he mounted his trike again, ready to go back home.

But just as I expected, his now-tired legs didn’t have the strength. He only made it a few feet before he stopped. “I can’t make it go.”

I smiled. “It’s okay. Let’s just walk. We can carry it home.”

He got off the tricycle and watched me as I hoisted it onto my hip, holding one of the handlebars. He grabbed the other one. “I’ll help you, Momma.”

“Thank you,” I replied. Together, we climbed the hill heading home. He strutted as he clutched the handle. He was Momma’s big helper. I carried the weight of the tricycle and let him believe he was really doing some work next to me.

As we neared the top of the hill, he stopped again. “Momma, can you carry me?”

Again, I smiled. “I sure can.” I lifted him onto my other hip and finished the short walk back to our house.

It was such a small thing, but as I carried him home and looked down at him, his sweet little cheek resting on my shoulder, I saw myself in him. God spoke to me in that moment.

How many times have I set out to do something on my own, counting on my own strength to get it done? How many times has God given me those gentle pushes on my path, pushes I didn’t give him credit for because I only saw the work I was doing “on my own”?

And when I’ve failed…and I have, so, so many times…how many times has He carried the weight of my burden for me? Even when I didn’t see His hand because I didn’t know Him and all He did for me?

And when I was so weak, so exhausted I couldn’t go on, how many times has He picked me up and carried me the rest of the way?

I am so, so thankful for His love and forgiveness. But today, I am thankful for His quiet strength. I wasted so much of my life knowing who He was but not really knowing Him. For years, I failed to give him the credit where it was due, not realizing that without Him, I could do nothing. But He never demanded the glory – it was up to me to humble myself and see Him for who He was and what He was doing in my life and give that glory to Him.

We are so lucky to have a God who knows us inside and out – our thoughts, our flaws, our mistakes – and still loves us more than we will ever understand. A God who wants to walk with us and strengthen us, even carry us through life’s trials.

Jesus offers to carry our burdens for us. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). We can give Him our troubles, our worries, our stress, and He will carry that load for us and provide the rest we all so desperately seek.

I am thanking Him today for the many times He’s held me through life’s storms. I pray that I will never again fail to give Him the glory and praise for all He does in my life. He is still working in me, and He knows (even when I forget) how much I need Him. I am so thankful for all the times I can see His hand at work in my life. But I’m especially thankful for the times He is there next to me, carrying my troubles or even carrying ME, even when I fail to see Him. He is faithful, and He is good. Even when I don’t deserve it.

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The Thief Next to Jesus

Good Friday. The day we remember our Savior and His cruel death on the cross. The day He TOOK MY PLACE in the death that I deserve, because He loved me. He knew when He came here the fate that awaited Him. Betrayal. Mockery. Torture. A slow, excruciating death. But He came anyway. Just to give us forgiveness that we don’t deserve. I can never thank Him enough. I can never repay Him for what He did for me.

But tonight, the one who is on my mind is the criminal who hung beside Him. A man who, unlike Jesus, had lived a life of sin. A man who society had deemed worthy of death on the cross, because of the crimes he committed. And as he hung there, nearing death, he confessed Jesus as Lord. “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” he said. And what did Jesus say? Did he tell him he was unworthy? Did he tell him his sins were too great, that he was condemned to die and go to hell because that was the punishment he deserved? No. “Assuredly, I say to you,” He told the criminal beside Him, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

I feel like sometimes, Christians, we’re missing the point. And when I say Christians, I’m including myself, too. It didn’t matter what sins that man had committed. It didn’t matter if he spent his entire life on the earth going against everything God ever said. The minute he confessed Jesus as His Lord and Savior – and that minute just happened to be one of the final moments of his life – He was forgiven. Heaven-bound. Did he deserve it? Of course not! But do I? Do you? Does anyone?

I have a past – one that does NOT include Jesus. I try to forget about it, because I know God has, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have nightmares about some of the things I’ve said and done. And guess what? I’m still far from perfect, despite all the work He’s already done in me. It doesn’t matter how “good” I try to be now. It doesn’t matter how many hours I spend in church, how much I give to those in need, or how many times a day I pray or read my Bible. That’s all good stuff, of course, but it’s not what saved me. Jesus saved me when He died and rose again, and the only thing I did to receive that gift is BELIEVE in Him and ACCEPT Him into my heart. That’s it.

We’ve never been more divided than we are today. And with that division comes such powerful hatred and cruelty. But Christians, are we helping the problem? Or are we stirring it up even more? It’s not wrong to stand up for what we believe in – in fact, we’re commanded to do so. But look at the way we’re doing it! Sharing hateful Facebook posts and memes, shaming the other side because they sin differently than we do. We’re no better than the Pharisees who were so blinded by their religious rules that they didn’t see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah! They put Him to death because He didn’t fit their idea of what a “religious” person should be. You guys, the Pharisees were some of the most “holy” people out there. They MEMORIZED the first five books of the Bible BEFORE THE AGE OF 12. They took the laws of Moses very seriously and when they condemned Jesus to death, they truly believed they were doing it in God’s name. They let their own religious rules blind them to Jesus’s message. They judged everyone around them.

Are we becoming modern-day Pharisees? Are we so high and mighty because of all the “good” things we do that we think we’re good enough to judge the world, when we’re missing Jesus right in front of our faces? The reality is, God loves EVERY SINGLE PERSON on this earth. He wants everyone to receive the gift of His Son and will give us to the very last moment of our lives to do so, if that’s what it takes. As Christians, we’re called to share His message with the world, so they will receive Jesus and eternal salvation. Are we doing that? Are we really sharing His message when we share hatred and judgmental social media posts? Or are we turning people away from the Truth with our religious rules and hateful speech? Life with Jesus is about freedom. It’s about relationship with Him. It’s about love. It’s not about rules and being “better” than anyone else. It doesn’t matter how “wrong” or lost someone may be – Jesus died for him, too. And we’re called to love, not sit on our throne in judgment and bully someone into thinking like we do. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not how Jesus reached people, and we sure won’t reach anyone that way, either.

I’m thankful tonight for His sacrifice and His forgiveness. I pray that I will never be a hindrance to His love and His message. I want everyone to know that there’s nothing you can do to make Him not love you. He will forgive any sin, any mistake you’ve ever made. Don’t wait until you think you’re “worthy” to come to Him. You’ll never get there. Accept Him today, and let Him come into your life just as you are right now – flaws and all. He loves you despite your past or even your present. All you have to do is choose to believe, to accept Him. He wants to do big things in your life. All you have to do is let Him in.

Casting My Net

prayer

I wasn’t in the mood for church this morning.
I lay wide awake at five-thirty this morning, contemplating “calling in sick” to church to let my Sunday school kids know I wouldn’t make it. After a sleepless night spent worrying about something beyond my control, my head spun.
I yawned. I need some sleep. Both my boys slept soundly on either side of me. One phone call, and you can sleep, too. It’s only one week. What will it hurt?
But something kept me from making that call. I lay there debating, but kept remembering things I needed to do there. Bible School is next week. I need to meet with the workers and find some materials. Plus, my boys look forward to “playing” their guitars with the kids’ praise and worship.
When I couldn’t lie there any longer, I got up. Fine, I’ll go. I got myself and my kids ready, grumbling in my head the whole time, still stressing about the same burden that kept me up all night.
I got to Sunday school and found I had extra students because another teacher was on vacation. The big, lively group of kids and the lesson we had on Jesus’ prayer to His Father just before going to the cross was enough to pull me from my slump a little. I left Sunday school feeling happier, more alive.
But it was the preacher’s message that wrecked me. He read from Luke chapter five, when Jesus got in the boat with Simon and told him to drop his net into the water. Simon told Him they’d been fishing all night with no luck, but that he’d try again. When he did, his net filled with fish until it broke.
How many times have I told God I’ve done all I can do? How many times have I given up when things didn’t go my way the first time? Jesus never promised an easy ride. Even when He blessed Simon with an abundance of fish, the net broke, making them work to get the fish into the boat.
God loves to bless us, but we can’t expect Him to just rain those blessings down upon us. We have to trust – we have to keep going when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel – we have to work. When we listen to Him and take that leap of faith, no matter how difficult that leap may be, that’s when we’ll see true blessings.
I was able to lay my burden at the altar of prayer. Instead of spending the whole night in my head, worrying and what-if-ing and replaying conversations, I should have given it to Him in the first place. I should have laid it at His feet and immersed myself in the rest and peace that only He provides.
But I’m grateful that He pulled me to church, even if my heart was in the wrong place when I got there. I leave there every single Sunday feeling blessed by His presence…today was no different in that respect.  But today, I also left feeling lighter. At peace. Rested. I’m grateful that He’s still working in me, that He doesn’t give up on me. I’m grateful that He not only listens to me when I’m hurt or confused, but that He cares. That he guides me and speaks to me in so many ways – often through others, like He did this morning.
And I’m grateful for the chance to cast my net in one more time. And if it still doesn’t work, one more time after that. I will keep working, keep trusting, and know that He is in control.

I love that God knows exactly how to reach me – how to get a message across when I’m not listening for His voice.

This time, He chose my kids to deliver a message. And what better way to get to me than through the people I love most in this world?

I have been praying for something for quite some time, something I can’t share publicly but is important to me. And though I’m trying to be patient, I’ve grown frustrated at times because it feels like I’m not getting an answer from Him. I tell myself to trust Him, to trust His timing and His wisdom and listen for His gentle guidance.

But even though I tell myself I’m doing that – though I tell God Himself that I’m doing just that – He showed me otherwise.

The stomach virus has made its rounds in our house this month. And no, rounds (plural) is not a typo – while my husband and I took one turn with it, my boys each had it twice.

With my youngest, I quickly learned that milk – his favorite drink – was not a good thing while battling this virus. (I’ll spare the details of how I learned this, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.) I was scared that he was going to become dehydrated. For the sake of his poor little belly and body, I replaced his usual milk bottle with water or juice.

Through the day, he was mostly okay with this. It was nighttime that he resisted. He knew that he usually got milk to go to sleep and then again sometimes through the night when he woke. When I gave him a bottle of water at three a.m., the screaming fit display that followed was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Of course, I tried to whisper calmly, tried to reason with him. (As if that’s really possible with an eighteen-month-old.) “Bray, you can’t have milk right now. It’s not good for you while you’re sick. Maybe tomorrow morning, if your belly is feeling better, we can try a little milk again. But not tonight.”

The screaming drowned out my whispers. I tried everything I could to soothe him – rocking, walking and bouncing, rubbing his arms and legs with my fingernails the way he likes – but nothing worked. He was determined to have his milk.

I held him against me and begged God to help me calm him down, to heal him, to comfort him. I asked Him to help Brayson understand that I was withholding the milk for a good reason.

And that’s when I heard His voice: “You want Brayson to trust that you know what’s best for him. So why don’t you trust that I know what’s best for you?”

That’s when I realized I had been so busy telling God what I needed, I hadn’t really stopped to ask for His input. I was so sure I knew what was best for me. I forgot for a moment that He is the Almighty, that He designed me with a specific, perfect plan in mind and that my own dreams may not always line up exactly with that plan.

I know that God wants us to come to Him with everything – with our needs, our wants, our hopes. And I am so grateful for that. I am so in awe of the fact that the One who created it all loves me and wants a personal relationship with me. He loves me so much that when I stop listening to Him, stop trusting Him, He takes the time to reach out to me to gently remind me of who He is and how much bigger His love is than I can ever comprehend or grasp. But part of knowing that He loves me is knowing that He also loves me enough to say No. Or Not Yet. And in not answering my prayers the way I think He should, He is preparing me for something better. Or saving me from something disastrous that He can see and I cannot.

On this Christmas Eve, I am praising Him for coming to Earth, for becoming one of us in order to bring us to Him. I just read the Christmas Story with my sons, and it brought tears to my eyes to realize of the perfection of God’s plan, bringing His Son into this world in such a humble way. It was the perfect beginning to His time on this earth.

From the beginning of it all, He had a plan for each and every one of us. And that plan included a love for us so fierce that He sacrificed Himself in order to save us – even though we are undeserving and so often ungrateful.

Thank you, God, for sending Your Son into this world. Thank You for loving us so much when we have done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Merry Christmas to all of my family and friends!

Becoming Thankful (When I Didn’t Feel Like It)

With Thanksgiving only days away, many people are finding reasons to be thankful. I’m sure most of you have seen or participated in the social media “thankful” blitzes, listing a different blessing every day for the entire month of November.

Some people will feel inspired and uplifted by all the positivity on their newsfeeds. Others will be…well, annoyed. Resentful. Spiteful.

And I know that, because I used to fall in that latter category.

Just a few years ago, I found it difficult to find a reason to be thankful. I had this life plan that I had created and carefully followed. I was proud of where I was and what I had become. And then, without so much as a warning, that life that I had worked years to create was ripped to shreds in mere moments. To make a long story short, I suddenly found myself a single mom to my infant son.

I was terrified. A single mom? Being a teacher, I knew all the statistics and the stereotypes that came with single-parent families. (I just want to pause right here to say THANK YOU, GOD for the opportunity to be a single mommy for those years and for correcting that ugly, judgmental voice inside of me regarding that subject. God can turn single parents into ROCK STARS and I firmly believe that, in many ways, their children gain something by watching their mother or father work so hard to provide for them.)

Anyway, Thanksgiving rolled around that year just like it always does – with the ink barely dry on my divorce papers – and there came the “Today I am thankful for…” posts. I scrolled through my newsfeed, rolling my eyes at most of them, especially the “Today I am thankful for my amazing, wonderful, faithful, loving husband” ones.

I tried to talk to God about it. I knew it wasn’t right to harbor so much bitterness. When I held my son in my arms – the person I loved more than I ever knew was humanly possible – I knew my heart should be filled with gratitude. But it wasn’t. I couldn’t push past the anger, the pain, and I let it consume my soul. I asked God to help me fix it, but my words felt empty. In truth, I felt anger toward Him, too. How did He let this happen to me?

I heard a story during that dark time. One of the old hymns we sang at church, “It Is Well With My Soul,” was written by a guy named Horatio Spafford. If you’ve already heard the story of why he wrote the song, you can skip this paragraph. But in case you haven’t, I’ll give you a brief background. Spafford was thriving. He was a faithful Christian, a successful lawyer and loving husband, and father to five children. They had a nice home and he traveled in important social circles. But while he was on top of his game, he lost his son. Almost immediately after, the Great Chicago Fire claimed many of his real estate investments. Just a couple of years later, when his wife and four remaining daughters were on a boat for Europe (where he was scheduled to join them later), the ship wrecked. Not one of his daughters survived.

On his way to meet his wife in England, he wrote the words to “It Is Well With My Soul.” Knowing that story makes the first verse so powerful: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well with my soul.”

I remember hearing that story and thinking, Wow. My troubles are NOTHING compared to what this guy went through, and look at the attitude he chose. But even that wasn’t enough to change my own heart; an evil little voice inside argued and said, He obviously didn’t care about his family much to be able to say “It is well with my soul” even after losing his children.

I let myself spiral further and further down, and when I decided enough was enough, I didn’t even know how to pull myself up. I turned to the Bible and found a passage that said, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). I read that passage over and over and finally understood what that Spafford guy was doing. In EVERYTHING give thanks…not when everything is PERFECT.  It wasn’t that he didn’t love his family; I’m confident he was devastated by his loss. But He knew that no matter what, God was good and still deserved his praise and thanks.

I knew that my self-absorption was keeping me from feeling any real gratitude for the blessings in my life. I blamed that one negative event for all my problems, using it as justification for the life of sin I had created. But when I repented and asked God to help me fix it, He showed me something else, too…

Even before my world had flipped upside-down, I hadn’t truly been filled with gratitude. Sure, I thanked God most nights for all my blessings, but there’s a difference between saying ‘thank you’ and truly being filled with thankfulness. I thought I had the whole “happiness” thing figured out, but looking back at the life I lived, I never really relied on God through any of it. I kind of did my own thing, without really consulting Him in any of the decisions I made. He was invited to come along (well, most of the time, anyway…unless I was doing something I knew He wouldn’t approve of, in which case I left Him out of it completely). So when things went well, I patted myself on the back before I even remembered to thank Him.

Only when I finally asked Jesus to come into my life the right way – at the center of it, where He belongs – did I learn what gratitude really meant. Because with Him at the center, I finally see Him in all things and can truly trust Him. I see the work that He is doing and how much He carries me each day, how He was there even through the greatest life trial I have faced so far. When He is in the center, I don’t have room for that negative, cynical, angry me that used to be there, the one who couldn’t see past my own problems to see all the good things – big and small. Who was I to be angry with God? He never promised me constant sunny skies…He promised to be there with me through the rain.

And amazingly, the anger that I felt over what I had gone through turned into gratitude…God not only brought me through it, He changed me and molded me into more of the person He wants me to be. I know I still have a lot of work to do, but day by day, I’m learning and growing and asking God for opportunities to become His child – no matter how challenging or difficult those opportunities may be.

Today, when I ask Him to lead and guide me and truly see Him working in my life, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for His love and mercy and forgiveness. And as far as the trials I have faced in the past and face today and will face in the future… it is well with my soul.